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THE NENJU OR JUZU

Copyright 2003 James Deacon


'If you make a ring with 108 seeds from a linden tree and meditate by reciting the Buddha's name,
then it is indeed a good gesture of practice.'

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...........Shakyamuni Butsu


The Buddhist rosary is known in Japan as a nenju or alternatively, a juzu. (sometimes o-juzu)

N
enju refers to 'beads used for mindful practice', and juzu translates as 'counting beads' (tally-beads).


The nenju was introduced to Japan from China during the 7th century, however it did not become popular until the 8th century when an Indian monk named Bodaisenna presented a nenju made of Linden to the Emperor.

'Praying without nenju lacks respect and is like grabbing
the Buddha with your hands
.'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. Rennyo (1415-1499 )

Uses:
The nenju has a number of uses in Japanese Buddhism:

it may be used the way other traditions use a rosary or mala - to count the number of prayers, mantras, dharani, etc. you are reciting

it may be held in the palms and the beads rubbed together as you pray

it may simply be rotated in the hands

it may be placed over either the left hand alone, or over both hands held together in gassho

it is also considered to be a protective charm against evil spirits - imbued as it is with the spiritual 'fallout' of all the devotions & meditations in which it has been used.

Nenju are frequently given as gifts - for example - to celebrate a birth, marriage, a coming-of-age, etc. They are also given as keepsakes and a source of protection to loved ones.

Nenju are objects to be treated with respect and taken care of. They should not be left lying around carelessly, and should be cleaned and kept in good repair. Nenju that are beyond repair should be disposed of properly - normally they would be taken to a Shinto Shrine, where, along with old good-luck charms, they will be respectfully ritualistically disposed of by the priests. ...

..

Number of beads:
The formal nenju has 108 koshu 'children'/main beads, plus either one or two larger boshu 'parent' beads.

[The 108 koshu represent the 108 bonnou (earthly desires, worldly & or evil passions) which the follower of the Dharma seeks to overcome.]

There are also 'informal' nenju. These are commonly 1/4-size, having 27 koshu and one boshu parent-bead. However there are also informal nenju with 18 koshu (1/6th-size), 36 koshu (1/3rd) 54 koshu (1/2).

A huge 1,080 koshu is sometimes, though rarely, used by priests.

Styles of nenju:
Different Buddhist schools have slightly different styles of formal nenju. For example:


Nichiren shu
The formal nenju of Nichiren Buddhism has 108 koshu 'children'/main beads, two larger boshu 'parent' beads and 4 shitendama 'segment' or ' marker' beads which are slightly smaller than the 108 koshu beads). The 2 boshu are placed at opposite ends of the string of koshu beads. One boshu has 2 strings of additional beads hanging from it, the other boshu has 3 strings of additional beads.

(the Nichiren shu only use formal nenju - informal nenju are not seen as acceptable)

The Nichiren nenju is held in a figure-8 and one end with a parent bead placed over one middle finger - the other boshu bead end over the other middle finger, so that the tassle-strings rest on the backs of the hands and the koshu beads hang between the palms, which are placed together in gassho.

 

Shingon shu
The nenju used by the Shingon shu is similar to that of the Nichiren school, except that it only has 2 -strings on each boshu parent bead.

The nenju also incorporates 4 marker beads. These are positioned after the 7th bead and 21st bead on either side of one of the parent beads.

In prayer, they are held in the same manner as the
Nichiren beads.



Tendai shu
Tendai nenju have slightly flattened koshu beads (hiratama) compared to the round koshu used by other schools.
The nenju is a single strand of 108 koshu, with 4 marker beads, and a single boshu with two strings of additional beads.

In prayer, the nenju is held between the index and middle fingers of each hand so that when the hands are placed together in gassho, part of the strand of flattened koshu hangs between the palms, and the other end, with the boshu bead and two strings of additional beads, drapes across the back of the hand / middle, ring, and little fingers.

Alternatively, the beads can be placed in a double loop over the fingers of both hands - letting them rest between the fingers and the thumb, while bring the hands into gassho.


Jodo shu
Jodo shu (Pure Land school) has four different kinds of juzu. One, for example, known as a hyakumanben is a huge 'communal' juzu used by the whole congregation who, sitting in a circle, all hold the juzu which is rotated in a clockwise direction, with each person passing the beads from their right hand to their left.
A second juzu, known as the nikka (or: rokumanben guri nikka) - designed for counting 60,000 recitations of the nembutsu - is shown here. This juzu consists of two loops - one loop with forty beads and a parent bead (called an oyadama); and one loop with twenty-seven beads interspaced with small beads and one oyadama.
This second loop has a floating metal ring to which two tassles are attached - one with ten flat beads; and one with six small round beads.

The juzu is held in the left hand with the twenty-seven bead loop held between the index and middle fingers and the other loop between index finger and thumb.

This juzu is either carried hung on the left wrist or held in the left hand. When the hands are held in gassho (prayer position) this juzu is draped over the thumbs and allowed to hang between the wrists.



Jodo Shin shu
This 27 bead nenju of the Jodo shin shu has 2 marker beads and the parent or 'Buddha bead' has a special tassle-string.

The tassle-string consists of a large loop and two 'end' pieces. The loop is seen to represent the cycle of birth & dying; and the end strings represent the 'cutting' or severing of the cycle of birth & dying.

In prayer, the beads can be placed over the fingers of the left hand (or both hands) - letting them rest between the fingers and the thumb, while bring the hands into gassho.

 


The formal nenju used by Jodo shin shu has 108 main beads
and two oyadama parent beads.

Each parent bead has two large tassles hanging from it. There are also additional beads on the tassle-strings of one of the parent beads.

In prayer, the doubled loop of beads can be placed over the fingers of both hands - letting them rest between the fingers and the thumb, while bring the hands into gassho.

 


Zen shu

Soto & Rinzai Zen shu use a nenju with a single loop of koshu and one boshu, from which hangs a double-tassle. It also has 4 'segment' or 'marker' beads which are slightly smaller than the 108 koshu beads, and one slightly larger marker bead. There is also a loose metal ring on the main loop of beads [this is not present in the Rinzai shu nenju]

In prayer, the nenju is placed in a double loop on the left hand.




When not chanting/praying/meditating, the nenju is held in the left hand.

 

Some examples of informal nenju

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Photo credits: Yasuda Nenju Ten



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